2017 has been a tremendous year — one that would be cherished by any avid reader. After a twenty-year long sabbatical, we had our Queen of Storytelling, Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy out with her second novel that went on to the Booker longlist once again. Next, we had our inimitable Manu Joseph shock the audience at a Literary Festival by stating, “Modi is the new sex.” If you need the context for that statement, he meant that it is as much a taboo to write about one as the other.
The inherent problem with creating any list, of this kind, is the allowance that needs to be made for the compiler’s tastes and preferences. This list is no different. While selecting my favourite fiction reads by Indian authors, among the books published this year, I stuck to two criteria — I must have read it and I must have liked it. So, in no particular order, these are my best Indian reads of 2017:
- The Book of Chocolate Saints by Jeet Thayil
Thayil’s book was my last and longest read of 2017. It invoked in me a lingering pathos that was difficult to shake off even hours after putting down the book. What is the place of art and literature in this fast-changing world? Every artist sacrifices his life at the altar of art for a few sacred moments with the muse. Still, neither does the artist nor does that art survive. Then, what is the meaning of this all? The book made me end the year with some heavy, disturbing questions.
- Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous by Manu Joseph
Manu Joseph is my most favourite Indian author. After purchasing this book, it was unfortunately left behind at Chennai for nearly two months. Unable to be away from his writing for so long, I reread both of his previous books again. Then, finally, this one reached me. Miss Laila, though brilliant and thought-provoking, is drastically different from the two previous ones. Many public figures are caricatured by his pen in this political satire that is as honest and humorous as only Manu can be.
- When I Hit You by
I was working on an article on marital rape and read this book to understand the psyche of the victim. The book is seething with rage at the impotence of the law and society in dealing with such blatant criminals. Domestic violence and marital rape are shattering the lives of not only the poor and uneducated women but are also prevalent among the educated and economically stable women.
- A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee
Neel Mukherjee’s book is a collection of five interconnected stories that delve on the vast divide between the rich and the poor in our country. It is a compelling read with rich prose that is a hard-hitting portrait of inequality and exploitation.
- The Doodler of Dimashq by Kirthi Jayakumar
Before you decide to read Kirthi’s book, know that your world will never be the same again after reading it. ‘I didn’t understand motivations for violence, because like my doodles, my mind only focused on black and white. Violence was destructive, no matter who used it, and for what.’ While the novel is based on the Syrian war, the crux of the story resonates everywhere. When did we decide that diaphanous notions like nationalism are more important than humanity?
- The Small-Town Sea by Anees Salim
Salim’s book must the most beautiful one that I read in 2017. I understood why he is called a writer’s writer. I paused and reread the book often because the prose was so simply and beautifully done. With an uncomplicated story, ocean setting and musical prose, the book draws you towards its characters and you mourn along with them long after you turn the last page.
- Murder in Mahim by Jerry Pinto
Jerry Pinto is a multi-talented writer. It is hard to believe this book has been written by the same person who penned Em and the Big Hoom? This novel, a murder mystery, is a must read not only for the well-etched out characters and fast-paced plot but also for the sad reality behind the homosexual prostitution racket that is rampant in Mumbai.
- The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy has lived a life consumed with the issues of social justice and economic inequality. Her second novel captures those issues in a fictionalised form. It is an aching story with multiple plots and a huge cast of characters tied together by Roy’s scintillating prose that aims to hold hope for the future.
- The Poison of Love by K.R.Meera
I read this book in a single breath during a long car journey. I read the last twenty pages through the blurred vision of copious tears. Even after turning the last page, I kept wiping away the tears that trickled down my cheeks much to the amusement of my fellow passengers. This novella sucks you into the story slowly and then hits you with a punch that will have you gasping for breath in the days to come. For the first time, I wondered how wonderful it would be if I could read Malayalam. Meera’s prose must be a treat to devour in the original.
- In the Name of God by Ravi Subramaniam
Right from the first page, Ravi’s book has its grip on you and the pace does not slacken all through the four hundred pages. It is evident that the author has undertaken immaculate research before writing the book. Since the book is about the Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, one of my favourite places, I bought my copy as soon as the book released. Without a doubt, Ravi Subramaniam is one of the finest thriller writers in our country.
How many of these have you read this year? Let us know in the comments.